The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done (Conclusion)

Okay, so while I’d love to pen the next The Illyiad, I have decided to forego the Homeric prose and tell y’all about the conclusion of my 9-day hiking trip Cafe-styles.

As you know from the intro post (that was Freshly Pressed!), I had already managed to injure my knee on Day One of our hike. What you don’t know is that two others in our group had also pulled or strained some body part or another before the second day’s end, so that we were all crawling along at a snail’s pace and nowhere near reaching our intended campsite.

It was that night that we all somberly realized that the trip could come to an end the very next morning. There was no point going on if we couldn’t move faster than dying turtles.

The saddest part was that the life-sucking, injury-inducing two days of hiking we had endured was supposedly the easiest part of the whole loop. Our fourth comrade (the non-injured one) had done this trail before and assured us that it was only getting harder from here on out.

So it was the morning of Day Three. We were all still in pretty bad shape. We decided that the first hour of hiking would be our test. It started off rough, but we kept going and nobody wanted to be the one to back down.

So the next thing we knew, we were at “the hard part.” And at this point, there was no turning back.

The part of the trail that will forever live on in my memory is what I’ve named The Descent From Hell. It was basically many, many, many feet of extremely steep, at times almost vertical, descent with sharp, jagged rocks scattered all along down the slope. It had been raining non-stop for the past couple of hours which was making things even more dangerous and slippery.

I’m normally a pretty tough cookie, but I was honestly holding back tears on my way down. The worst part is when it feels like half an hour just passed to advance ten steps, and then you look down to the bottom and realize how many more painstaking, stomach-churning “half hours” you have left to go.

My fear of heights and the pack that felt like it could easily throw me off balance and hurtling down the slope was probably what made this descent feel a hundred times worse for me.

It was at this point that I knew this trip would be the hardest thing I’d ever do.

But what I love about these mental challenges is that it gives you so much strength for all of the other hard things that come up unexpectedly along life’s path. And really, after that, nothing on the trip seemed as insurmountable.

By day four, I think all of us had found our groove. We had each figured out the best ways to navigate the terrain, we knew what hours of hiking would feel like, and we had built confidence in ourselves and our team.

There was so much beauty to see, that I couldn’t understand why other hikers we met along the way were attempting the loop in two or three days! (Never mind why they’d want to, the thought of how they were going to was mind-boggling). There was so much to enjoy and savour that I don’t think I’d ever want to do the trail in less than nine days.

Those never-ending uphills felt so worth it when you got to another amazing view. And even until the last day, there was always something new to see — like the “quartzite highways”, The Lord of the Rings-like scenery, and the Jurassic Park forest.

We met many hikers during our journey — many more than we had anticipated. But then again, since we were moving at a senile pace it was no wonder that everyone starting before us was lapping us! While being in solitude for most of the trip was nice, it was great to meet and share stories with our fellow campers.

The last few days brought us sunshine and a day of much-needed rest. As our packs got lighter and we became acclimatized to our daily routine, we were finally able to pick up the pace!

Nine days is a long time to be out there and things that I didn’t know could hurt — like my elbows, of all things — hurt. But I loved (almost) every moment of this crazy hike and at times just felt so elated and fortunate to be out there. I’m looking forward to the next one!

– Cafe <3

If you didn’t answer the question on the first post: What’s the hardest thing you’ve done (physically and/or mentally)?

On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal”

While going on trips and posting photos of the great times I had has been fun, I need to bring it back to something a little more serious.

Something that’s been brewing in my mind and in my heart for quite some time now. Brewing like some good coffee. Okay, sorry …

On October 10th, I discovered that it was World Mental Health Day and since then have come across numerous stories about people’s struggles with their mental health.

Actually, since starting here on WordPress, I’ve come across many blogs that serve as outlets for people’s experiences with depression, eating disorders, anxiety, drug addiction, and so on.

As I learn more and more about other people’s struggles with achieving good mental health — including people in my everyday life — I realize that it’s more rare to find someone who really has it all together than someone who feels like they’re nowhere near society’s standard of “normal.”

I didn’t feel this way for a long time though. I really felt like I was one of the few in life who wasn’t normal. Ever since I could remember, as a young girl, I would get into frequent spells of feeling down and depressed and wouldn’t know why.

It never turned into anything where I couldn’t get myself out of bed or thought of hurting myself, but it was a constant cycle of sadness, loneliness and anger that went on for years.

And maybe that’s why I was even more confused about whether I had a problem and if so, what that problem was.

It seems that so many people go through their days feeling down about life, feeling like they’re not good enough, feeling angry, feeling misunderstood. And many don’t know how to deal with that in a healthy way.

It’s so easy to push those awful feelings deep down inside where we don’t have to face them, or turn to things like drinking or drugs to escape.

I found myself doing just that — using alcohol as my security blanket to hide from my problems and all of the anger, sadness and insecurity that was making me feel like a complete wreck during my younger years.

At first, it seemed as though I was just drinking to be social — I probably told myself that “everyone’s doing it.” But at some point, it appeared that I could no longer have any fun on the weekend, and sometimes even during the week, without alcohol — and usually, a lot of it.

Then, I started drinking at home by myself. I also first justified this as simply “taking the edge off” after a long day at work. But eventually, I had to face the fact that it had become my immediate “go-to” solution whenever I started feeling depressed or cycling in overwhelmingly negative thoughts.

All I wanted to do was numb myself in those moments when I felt like a war was raging in my own head. And so, I would instinctively pour myself another and another until I felt that numbness sink in.

Of course, I never felt better about my problems — but I didn’t know what the alternative answer was.

My thoughts from various journal entries over the years.

I can’t tell you the number of times I said I would never drink again — or at least not let it get out of hand. And the number of times I broke that promise.

There was one time I got to “5 months of (drinking) soberdom”, but during that period I just found myself experimenting with other drugs instead. Anything to escape life as I knew it.

I don’t think I would have met the criteria for physical addiction to alcohol (although perhaps I was psychologically dependent on it). And I don’t say that in an attempt to avoid shame — rather, to explain that you don’t need to be at the extreme end and wearing a label in order to know that your drinking is a problem.

During part of that tumultuous time, I was also in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship, which obviously didn’t help in getting me to a healthy place where I could start dealing with the issues I already had.

My mental health was hurt badly through that experience, to the point where I felt very worthless as a person. It took a long time before I could get it to a state where I felt safe and good about myself. But perhaps more on that another time.

Part of a poem I wrote during my struggle to get my mental health to a better place.

I can write about all of this now because I’ve come such a long way in my thinking since then. And because I realize now that so many others go through the same thing.

I am by no means alone in feeling like I am not perfect and have a lot of things I need to work on.

The impression I give on this blog as a positive, life-loving person is genuine. But I want you to realize that I’ve gotten here through mistakes, lessons learned, and many ups-and-downs that make me appreciate life and the positive influences I now have around me so much more than I would have otherwise.

And it still, and always will be, a work in progress.

I encourage you to understand that everyone is different and that we’ve all had our share of life experiences that have impacted on us negatively and led to our own individual mental health issues, no matter how big or small.

Whether you are diagnosed with a mental illness or just have a feeling that things aren’t completely okay in your head, remember that no one is “perfect” and no one feels like they’re society’s unattainable standard of “normal” all, or even any, of the time.

And that’s totally okay.

The more we talk about our own mental health challenges, issues, fears, insecurities, and imperfections with those around us, the more it will become normalized and the less afraid people will be of just being themselves.

Thank you for reading with an open mind, and please feel free and safe to share your story here.

– Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3

Blog post: October 10th, 2012 — World Mental Health Day by littleburstsofinspiration
Blog Post: Perfectly Imperfect by vinnylanni
Blog Post: Stop hating yourself for everything that you are not and start Loving yourself for everything you are. by sexandmiami
Blog Post: I am not a loser by bipolarblogging
Photo Credits: We all got issues, Normal is boring

*This post was edited on January 20, 2016

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

**This post was Freshly Pressed! Thanks to WordPress and to everyone who read, liked, and commented! Much love!

This epic adventure of our four young heroes begins on a gloomy, overcast morning.
The fifth of their band had fallen from the ranks.
Even Charlie, the Australian Shepherd, was to deny them his companionship on the long journey ahead.

Alas, the four heroes would march forth, a united army,
Into what was foretold to be days of thunderous storms and merciless showers.

Survival comes at a price, weighing heavily on their backs.
Our heroes enter the dark forests of Killarney,
Like knights forging into the abyss of battle.
How will they persevere for nine days when the first hour begs for relief?

The constant, piercing pain in their shoulders was unprepared for;
Every footstep on the uneven, rocky path becomes akin to lifting lead.
Did our heroes expect too much?
Delude themselves into believing that they were worthy of winning this war?

There is a momentary reprieve in the sojourn
As our band of ravenous travellers stop to refuel.
Chief’s succulent veal roast is devoured like The Last Supper.
A mountain of fluffy white rice nurses the mind’s wounds back to health.

Merry as elves, stomachs content with the feast,
Our heroes take up their pilgrimage once more.
Yet, what is said to take one hour extends into two for our weary crew.
Then, the first of them is hit.

Big J’s knee, giving way to the unforgiving terrain, waves the white flag.
Agony stretched across her face,
She attempts bravery in the midst of falling arrows,
Her comrades patch her up and again, they roar on.

Finally, as the merciful mirage appears to the worn desert travellers,
The sign to their first night’s home beckons.
After a few wrong turns and balancing perilously on narrow ridges,
Our exhausted heroes stumble into an oasis.

The fight is not over; it has only begun.
They know the worst awaits them in the mountains,
Like the sleeping dragon that will surely awake when neared.
Will our heroes survive and slay the beast?

Stay tuned …

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done (physically and/or mentally)? Why was it the “hardest thing”?

* * *

What’s up?! Okay, for those of you who are like, What has happened to Cafe and why is she talking like Shakespeare??? I thought that writing about my hiking trip adventures in the style of this week’s Writing Challenge by The Daily Post would be so much fun! I really did feel like this was an epic tale and seriously the hardest thing I’ve ever done, at least physically (but mentally, it was up there too!)

So I hope you enjoyed it and if you want to hear about the rest of the trip in this epic prose (hehe), holla in the comment box!

– Cafe <3

Learning What Beauty Means

A few months before I went to visit Korea, I wrote a post called “Korean 101: Do You Look Good Enough?” that talked about the obsession with looks that Korean society seems to be currently undergoing.

It was something that I was afraid to be confronted with in the Motherland. As I mentioned in that earlier post, I know what it feels like to be looked down on and made fun of just because of physical appearances. I did not want to have to see others being subjected to the same kind of pressures they didn’t deserve.

I don’t know if I ended up being as constantly bombarded with it as I thought I’d be, but in any case, I still saw plenty of ads of young celebrities who have all probably had plastic surgery to make their faces look “perfect.” And the before- and after-surgery shots of both young girls’ and guys’ faces displayed in the subways and magazines just made my heart wrench into a knot.

Not too long after landing in Korea …

One day, someone said something in response to one of my protests that made me think really hard. They pointed out that for some of these girls, getting their faces done can give them a confidence that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

And it’s really not a point to just dismiss.

I started to think, am I really one to judge? Am I one to believe that this kind of pressure isn’t everywhere, including in my own country, and that I don’t succumb in some way or another to externally prescribed standards of what is considered “beautiful”? Don’t most of us?

Advertising “beauty” in the city

Here is my issue in particular with the Korea plastic surgery craze: it seems, from what I’ve learned, that girls at an extremely young age are told that looking “beautiful” is one of the — perhaps, the most — important things in life.

It is what you need to be successful, as is actually the case when you have to submit your headshot with a job or college application. Friends and mothers will be the first to tell you what’s wrong with your face and what you need to get fixed. Their celebrity “role models” all look like the “after” shots that you too can look like if you just book an appointment with the surgeon.

Basically, these young people don’t stand a chance to learn any other standard of beauty.

I feel that at least when I was growing up, I had time to develop my own personality and consider things like being creative, funny, and smart as what made me a cool person. My mom thought I was so cute with my chubby face and never put me down for having on a few extra pounds.

It was only when people started commenting that the way I looked was “wrong,” that I started looking at myself differently and feeling insecure.

Flipping through a magazine at a Korean restaurant

I think that having started out with different standards of what being an attractive person means has helped me to not totally lose myself in society’s standards of attractiveness.

I don’t know what’s going on with young kids here (in Canada) today. Are the pressures mounting against them to look a certain way to fit in and feel happy with themselves? Are they being bombarded at an ever-younger age than my generation was?

Whatever the case, my hope is that young people growing up get a chance to develop other standards of beauty and success — their own standards. Because once the real pressures start coming on full-force, they will need some powerful weapons to battle those outside voices with.

– Cafe <3

What are your experiences in learning what “beauty” means? How do you think we can help young people grow up with a more positive self-image?

A great blog post I read that speaks to this issue: http://louisepageblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/the-pressure-to-be-thin/